Over the past few years, Italian-born and South Florida-raised DJ/producer Durante has quietly but steadily built a formidable reputation. His skills behind the decks might come as little surprise to University of Florida alumni and Gainesville residents who saw him cut his teeth as an up-and-coming artist at the beloved weekly party Neon Liger, but for those seeing him for the first time, it’s only natural to be shocked at how much soul and sheer skill the young artist brings to his craft.
Since leaving Gainesville in 2014 to move to Los Angeles — without having ever been to California — to intern at a record label and pursue music full-time, Durante has seen his pastime pay off handsomely. In the past year alone, he’s had several releases on collaborator Amtrac’s label Openers, and older tunes such as his breakthrough 2014 song, "Slow Burn," which have racked up millions of plays on both YouTube and Spotify, seem to find new audiences continually.
Thus far, it appears Durante’s 2018 will be similarly fruitful. In addition to his first release of the year, "Orbital Frame"; several celebratory home-state gigs including Neon Liger’s tenth anniversary; and an Openers party in Coyo Taco’s backroom — widely regarded by those who attended as one of the best parties of this year’s Miami Music Week — his track “Split Wick” was dropped by none other than Bonobo during his most recent Boiler Room set. Durante will continue the hot streak tomorrow night during his first appearance at Floyd, accompanied by sets from Ascendants and KCM & Brien.
Before the show, Durante spoke with New Times about some of his most triumphant moments, the distinction between Florida's and California’s respective electronic scenes, and his house-music-indebted sound.
New Times: In interviews and bios online, your artistic arc of beginning piano at 6, discovering FruityLoops in middle school, and eventually leaving Gainesville to work at a record label in L.A. is pretty well covered. As far as your relationship with music — whether as a listener or an artist yourself — is concerned, is there anything that’s been overlooked or unmentioned?
Durante: I did a mini-tour in Europe when I stopped working at the label to pursue music full-time three years ago. That was probably one of my favorite experiences in my life so far. I played shows in Ibiza, Montenegro, Bristol, and Paris. I ended up going to Germany and Italy as well. I love Europe, and I’m excited to go back there and play again, hopefully sooner than later.
I specifically remember playing Sea Dance Festival in 2015 on the beach in Montenegro. I started with maybe a thousand people at my stage (if that). The DJ before me was playing hip-hop and different types of music. I went up, did my thing, and just played house and techno; after two hours, I had something like 11,000 people at my stage. That was one of the most incredible moments I’ve had as a DJ and hopefully not the last time I'll play in front of that many people.
At what point did electronic music and dance culture enter your life? Were there any formative records — or a particularly memorable gig or DJ set — that made you say, "OK, I like music, but this is what I want to do"?
My mother had [New Order’s acclaimed second album] Power, Corruption & Lies on vinyl, and she played it for me a bunch when I was a kid. What a great album.
I've always been really moved by music. I knew I wanted to do something in music for a long time before my first DJ gig, but I think when I started playing records for people in a club is when it really clicked. I'd been producing music since I was 14/15, and I never thought of DJ'ing as something that I could do until I moved to Gainesville for Uni. After I saw the DJs that were coming through for shows, I tried to get involved as much as I could. After I started DJ'ing is when I really started to get serious about production.
To answer your question: Music is something that's always been a deciding point in my life. Every time I've ever had to choose between music and something else, the decision was always music.
Before moving to L.A., you came of age and honed your craft in Florida. Having now spent several years in California, what differences have you noticed in the two states’ respective electronic scenes and what they have to offer? Can you point to any developments in your own music and say, "This came from my time in Florida, this from L.A., etc.?"
I don't feel like I'm the right person to talk to about this, but to me it seems like the music scene as a whole is just a lot bigger in L.A. Electronic music is just one small speck compared to all the other music that's going on in L.A.; whether that's good or bad is hard to tell. There's a great community of people here that really care about the underground, and I feel like the same is true in Miami. This is what makes both places such great places for electronic music to thrive. I feel Miami is a bit more evolved in making house and techno accepted in a public sphere, while L.A. has a bit more grassroots approach. I'm just happy that the music is now starting to be recognized and accepted by a wider audience. It's a global sound, and there's a lot of room for it to grow.
In an interview from a few years back, even then you were citing house-music figureheads Frankie Knuckles and Kerri Chandler as influences, and it shows in songs such as “Wolf Country.” Having started making music and first DJ'ing when very different and less melodic musical movements were happening — blog house, dubstep, the rise of Justice and EDM subsequent to that, etc. — what attracted you so strongly to the sound of house, especially when a lot of people were more interested in more contemporary, harsher styles?
Growing up being classically trained in piano, my ear has always been tuned to more melodic elements of music. Also being put onto techno from a pretty young age by my cousins in Italy had a huge influence on the type of music I was into. Music taste is one of those things that just evolves over time, and I feel like you don't really get to choose what you like; you either like it or you don't, and there's nothing wrong with preference.
For me, I've always just liked a certain type of sound, and I've tried to use my taste to create music I want to listen to. I'm just glad there's some people out in the world that agree with my own musical preferences. Whenever someone tells me they like a song I've made, it makes me really happy, because I've found someone else I can relate to. I'm not the best with describing emotions through words, so music is an amazing outlet for me.
When you're DJ'ing, what kind of reactions are you trying to evoke from the crowd? Do you have your own experiences or what you’d want to hear as a dancer in mind?
I think when I’m DJ'ing, I really focus on the crowd and how they react to certain types of music. If I can, I really like to arrive a little before my set so I can try to read what a dance floor is into. At the end of the day, the floor is queen, and she should always get what she needs to keep going. In an age when the melody can sometimes be lost, I try to find records that are well-written musically but are also really fun to dance to. I think that the ups and downs in DJ sets are what really create "those moments." In life, it's hard to realize when you're actually happy when you're always "happy." It's important to have ups and downs so you can appreciate the highs and recognize your lows. I feel that my favorite DJ sets have a wide range of emotion, and that's what makes the story of music that much better.
Thus far, it would seem your Florida gigs this year have been pretty momentous, what with returning to Neon Liger and playing Miami Music Week as a proper act headlining parties. A few years onward since your move away, does it feel odd or gratifying whenever returning for a home-state gig?
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Definitely gratifying. I love coming back to the state where I grew up and being able to DJ at places I'd been to years ago, just hoping I'd be able to land a DJ gig there. It feels like all my dreams are coming true.
What lies ahead in 2018, whether on record or on the road?
I've been working nonstop in the studio. I can't talk about much right now, but I released ten tracks and one remix last year. I'm hoping I can keep up the pace this year with even more releases!